Beach No 51: Milk (Sunday 11 February 2018)

As I hop on my bicycle to ride to Milk Beach at 9:30 am I’m thinking of a recent conversation with a friend about Being more and Doing less. The irony of spending my leisurely bicycle ride through Sydney on a beautiful Sunday morning thinking about how to Be rather than Do isn’t entirely lost on me.

But, obviously, I am off in the shrubbery of my mind as I ride through Centennial Park. The road is one way and I ride right past my exit, so I do a full extra circuit of the park.

I spend so little time in these harbourside Eastern Suburbs that, in my mind, once I’ve left Centennial I think I’m nearly to Vaucluse, home of Milk Beach. I’m barely half way there. This second half of the ride is on a mix of major and minor roads, all of them decidedly hilly. Climbing one, my chain comes off – I find a flat bit of footpath, remove the panniers, flip the bike, and put the chain back on, leaving traces of grease on my hands.

Finally, 90 minutes from home, I’m locking my bicycle to the National Park sign at the end of Tingara Avenue and walking the remaining 200 metres to Milk Beach along the Hermitage Foreshore Walk.

After the big names beaches with their big crowds, Manly and Maroubra, Milk is a nice reminder that part of the mission of this project is to visit the more obscure beaches.

It’s a little beach: fifty metres long by, maybe, 20 metres deep. It’s a shallow crescent of sand with eroding chalk, maize, and rust coloured rock formations at either end. Women in bikinis sun bathe on some of the rocks. A family splashes and plays in the shallows. There are kayaks and paddleboards pulled up on the beach and boats are anchored not far from shore. There is a very dark brown white man in speedos roasting in the sun.

A path to South Head traverses the beach and walkers stroll through sprinkling the air with words in Italian, Mandarin, German, etc.

I manage the change from riding gear to swimming gear beneath the modesty cover of my beach towel. To me, it’s a very Australian manoeuvre. The first time I did it, years ago now, I felt like I’d ticked a box on my list of things which made me more Australian. Now, every time I do it I am reminded of that feeling. It’s nice. Which is good because the contortions involved are a bit of a pain in the arse.

I wade into the Harbour.

I’m still hot from the ride. The coolness shocks then relieves and, finally, is lovely.

Two grandfathers with two grandsons, a teenager and a toddler, throw a ball around. One grandfather finds a small silvery fish, dead and floating. He throws it further from the shore while speculating it hadn’t survived catch-and-release. It’s upturned belly glistens in the sun. I don’t want it anywhere near me.

Back on the beach I let the sun and breeze dry my skin, pour myself hot sweet black tea from my Thermos, and enjoy the view of our harbour. The wind is picking up making the surface choppy and frothy. Yet the water is pale pale green and cobalt with forest green under tones.

Last night I met a lot of people at a party who, while they live here, are originally from overseas and mostly had arrived more recently than me. In talking with them about Sydney, a place I, a lot of my friends, and the media complain about regularly, I was reminded just how magical this city is.

Sitting here now those impressions of other people are made manifest. Just look at this place. I am in a major city. I can see the urban skyline just there to the right. Seaplanes depart and arrive. The ferry comes and goes from Rose Bay Wharf. This gorgeous crescent of beach and the parklands behind are in the public domain and look at all the people who’ve come to enjoy it. It’s magnificent.

Tea done it’s time to take some photos. Which is when I fall off the boardwalk and tumble into the bushes. No injury but a bit of an abrasion. And no harm to the ego either as it went unnoticed.

I’m ready to head home.

A BIT ABOUT MILK BEACH AND VAUCLUSE, MAINLY VAUCLUSE

Milk Beach is in Vaucluse.

This area was home to the Birrabirragel people of the coastal Dharug language group until their homeland was invaded and they were displaced. Their sovereignty was among the first to be disrupted after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. A rudimentary signal station was established on the ridge separating the sea from the harbour, it was formalised by 1790 and a bridal trail connected it to Sydney Cove. By 1811 that trail had become South Head Road.

Vaucluse House is one of the suburbs main tourist attractions and the source of the name of the suburb. It was built by Sir Henry Browne Hayes who had been transported as a convict for kidnapping the granddaughter of a wealthy Irish banker.

Let’s delve into that one a little more, shall we? Sir Henry was born into a wealthy family in Cork, Ireland in 1762. In 1790, at age 28, he was knighted. Following the death of his wife he became acquainted with Miss Mary Pike, heiress to over £20,000. On 22 July 1797 Sir Henry abducted her, took her to his house, called in a man dressed as a priest to perform a marriage ceremony – to which Miss Pike objected and which she never considered legitimate. She was eventually rescued by relatives and Hayes fled. Wikipedia doesn’t say as much, and it’s probably not recorded anywhere, but I’m going to guess that between the ceremony and her rescue that Sir Henry raped Miss Pike. What I’ve read indicates that her wealth was his main interest. Perhaps. I’ve also read that she never fully recovered from the ordeal and experienced “bouts of madness” through the rest of her days.

In discussing the convicts, we often focus on the many who were sent out for either the petty crimes of poverty and hunger (stealing food or small items to sell to be able to buy food) or political crimes. Sir Henry Browne Hayes committed a vile crime.

He was on the run for two years. His trial in 1801 garnered much attention. He was found guilty and initially was condemned to death later commuted to transportation for life. He arrived in Sydney in July 1802. Still with his title and his wealth even as a convict. He had paid his way into a softer passage from the England but along the way made an enemy of Surgeon Thomas Jamison. Upon arrival in Sydney he spent the first six months imprisoned “for his threatening and improper conduct.” Governor King found him “a restless, troublesome character” and was glad to grant permission for him to purchase land and a cottage well distant from the main colony of Sydney.

So, in 1803 he bought a home and property from Thomas Laycock. Sir Henry, an admirer of the 14th century poet Petrach named his cottage after a poem about the Fontaine de Vaucluse near the town L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in France.

The house was later purchased by William Charles Wentworth (in 1853). He was a barrister and explorer – one of the colonists who first crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813. He made many structural changes and additions, so it is his house and gardens you visit if you visit Vaucluse House.

Closer to Milk Beach, in fact in the parklands adjacent to it, is Strickland House – originally called Carrara and built in 1854-6 for the first Lord Mayor of Sydney, John Hosking. The name was changed in 1915 when it became a convalescent home for women.

The only reference I can find for the naming of Milk Beach says it was so named at the location of milk deliveries to Strickland House.

Carrara, August 1903
Carrara, August 1903

VAUCLUSE PEOPLE

In colonial times rich men and men holding important positions built their homes in Vaucluse. While all the Birrabirragel people’s land has long been stolen and extensively built on, still the wealthy flock to Vaucluse. As of 2016 the 2030 post code (which includes Vaucluse) had the 5th highest mean taxable income in Australia ($154,010) – note that that only counts taxable income not accumulated wealth or income for which the tax man does not cometh.  The median household weekly income is $2741 (compared with $1486 for New South Wales and $1438 for Australia).

Vaucluse & Woollahra, 1895
Vaucluse & Woollahra, 1895

On the 2016 census night 9,337 people called Vaucluse home. Of these 25, or 0.3%, identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders heritage. (As compares to 2.9% of residents of New South Wales and 2.8% of all Australians.) These 25 people had a median household income of $2550 or $191 less than their non-Aboriginal neighbours, which over 52 weeks would be $9,932 less per year. But that $2550 is twice the average of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in NSW ($1214) and Australia more generally ($1203).

Most Vauclusians are Australian born (57.5%) though for nearly half (48.3%) both parents were born overseas. Those born overseas themselves hail from South Africa (7.8%), England (5.2%), China (2.3%), New Zealand (1.9%) and Israel (1.4%).

Vaucluse is probably one of very few suburbs in all of Australia where the most common response about religious identification is Judaism at 23.2% followed by No Religion 22.6%, Catholic 19.8% and Anglican 11.5%. Across the state of NSW 0.5% people identified as Jewish and in Australian 0.4%.

VAUCLUSE POLITICS

Milk Beach is in the Local Government Area of Woollahra, the State electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal).

In the recent national postal poll on same sex marriage 81% of Wentworth voters were in favour (compared with 62% nationally).

MILK BEACH LOCATION

Milk Beach is 13.7 kilometres (8.5 miles) from home.

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Beach No 50: Maroubra (7 January 2018)

Since 2010 I’ve been visiting Sydney’s beaches in alphabetical order. I’ve reached number 50: Maroubra.

We’re set for record-breaking heat today. It’s supposed to be in the high 40s in the Western Suburbs. My old schoolmate, Tracey, is visiting from Chicago – and no heat is too much heat for her.  My friend Matthew is coming along too – he’s becoming a regular here at Sundays the Beach with this to be his third (after Little Congwong and Manly).

The Maroubra Beach high street, the shops, the reserve behind the beach, the beach itself, and the area between the flags are chockers. The heat is all encompassing. I’m swimming through air a bit warmer than my blood.

As we arrive there is a Westpac rescue helicopter low over the water at the southern end. There are a heap of Surf Lifesaver dinghies out there as well.

Bright colours, harsh sun
Bright colours, harsh sun

We find a bare patch of beach not far from the flags and set up camp. My new red beach umbrella goes up, and in its shade all is good. Our phones say it’s in the mid-40s but it doesn’t feel that hot at all – more like the high 30s.

There are thousands of people on the beach. Hundreds in water between the flags.

I notice there are two ambulances near the pavilion – one with its bay doors open.

I love Sydney beaches which draw the whole world. There are people here from every inhabitable continent. I’m sure among the masses are even some who have worked in the Antarctic. Yes, it’s crowded and messy, but really beautiful – all these people, all their various swimming costumes, their umbrellas, tents, beach towels.

There is a gaggle of very dark boys, pre-pubescent, lanky, sinewy, laughing in the waves for the whole time we are there. The sea sparkles against their matt-dark-chocolate skin – they are beautiful in that way that happy, healthy, youth is always beautiful, here, with the added aesthetic loveliness of the contrast between their dark brown skin and the pale blue and white of the surf.

We take turns coming and going from the water. Tracey is a life-long swimmer, competitive in her youth. She dolphins under the waves and swims out, tries to catch some waves back to shore with mixed success. In my usual way, I wade in slowly, feeling the strength of the push and pull of the surf coming and going.

Everyone is at Mourbra
Everyone is at Mourbra

The surf lifesavers – perhaps on higher alert owing to whatever was happening when we arrived – are on their game, regularly whistling stray swimmers back between the flags.

From under my umbrella I gaze out past my recently repainted toes to the sand and sea. The water is the palest of blues – azure really, to aqua, to cobalt at the crisp hard line separating the sea from the sun-bleached pale blue upturned bowl of a sky.

Tracey makes me feel short - not many women do. Nice to have an overseas visitor for Number 50.
Tracey makes me feel short – not many women do. Nice to have an overseas visitor for Number 50.

After about 90 minutes and several swims – the gaggle of girls to our left light cigarettes and young men – these seemingly American – arrive with music. Matthew goes to tell the girls they are not allowed to smoke on the beach and is in a bit of a stand-off with them. He goes to talk to the Surf-Lifesavers and is told he’ll have to call the police if he wants something done about it. (Maybe on a quieter day they may have acted.) As it happened one of the lifesavers walked past the girls to the pavilion – coincidental probably – but they did put their cigarettes out briefly.

From the lifesavers Matthew learns the helicopter was collecting a body found in surf. Not a swimmer who had drowned but, from the newspaper story I read later, a suspected suicide.

Matthew tells us this after we’ve left the beach and are heading someplace to find food. We wind up at The North End Café where we have really fantastic salads – well Matthew and Tracey have salads and I have their salmon poke – which was so very good.

Poke at North Beach Cafe
Poke at North End Cafe

While we were waiting for our food, my friend Steve comes in to order drinks. He and Amanda are sitting outside. Steve lives in Coogee, Amanda is visiting from the UK, I know them through entirely separate channels (I met Steve on Facebook and Amanda through my friend Tom – who, I should note, doesn’t, as far as I know, know Steve) – and here they are at the same café as us in Maroubra. You know you’re in your hometown when you run into people you know at random places.

Lunch done, we nip into the convenience store next door for Golden Gaytimes – Matthew’s all-time favourite ice creams and one I like to introduce all visitors too because it’s tasty, and it’s called a Golden Gaytime.

Ya gotta love a Golden Gaytime
Ya gotta love a Golden Gaytime

A BIT ABOUT MAROUBRA

The residents of the Maroubra area, at the time of European invasion, were the Mura-ora-dial people who spoke Dharawal. The name Maroubra comes from this language and means place of thunder, presumably in reference to the crashing surf. There are rock carvings on the northern headland and evidence of an extensive tool-workshop was found at the south end of the beach in the early 20th century.

After the 1788 arrival of Europeans on Sydney Harbour it took a while to get this far south. The first house was built in the area in 1861 and by the 1870s wool scouring works had been set up at the northern end of the bay. Apparently this is a fairly smelly process and, at the time, Maroubra seemed just the place for the ‘noxious trades’.

When the 1,513 ton, full-rigged, iron ship Hereward was caught in gale-force winds and wrecked on the northern end of the beach in May 1898 – Maroubra was suddenly in the headlines and Sydneysiders flocked to have sticky-beak. Because in 1898 going to look at the shipwreck was as a good a day out as any. As I suppose it still would be today, really.

The wreck of 'The Hereward', May 1898
The wreck of ‘The Hereward’, May 1898

After the lifting of the ban on daylight bathing was in 1902, Maroubra Beach became a popular destination for swimmers – and with in a few years had surf lifesaving clubs at both ends of the beach.

Maroubra Surf Bathing c 1910
Maroubra Surf Bathing c 1910

Residential development began in earnest in the 1910s, the tram line from the city was extended to Maroubra  Beach by 1921. And during the depression many Sydneysiders who had been pushed out of rental accommodation in the inner city set up camp in the sand hills and dunes at the southern end of the beach. Then, after World War II, the NSW Housing Commission built the Coral Sea Housing Estate in the same area. This opened in 1961 and the residents of the estate make up a significant part of the Maroubra Beach community.

Edgar Froese, German electronic music pioneer best known for founding Tangerine Dream wrote this sort of trippy yet enjoyable nearly 17-minute piece Maroubra Bay after visiting.

MAROUBRA BY THE NUMBERS

According to the 2016 census, Maroubra South (which takes in the beach and points west as far as Anzac Parade) is home to 10,683 people. They have a median household income of $1529 per week, which, well slightly higher than the state ($1486) and federal ($1438) median is $920 per week lower the median household income in Manly (beach number 49).

There are 210 people in Marobra South who identified themselves  as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander – that’s 2%. Their median household income is $771 per week (compared to $1214 in NSW and $1203 for Australia). Notably this is $1678 per week less than those identifying as Aboriginal a/o Torres Strait Islander in Manly. The gap is more than the overall average median weekly income for people in Maroubra.

The typical denizen of Maroubra South is 38 years old, Australian-born, but with at least one parent who was born overseas. They’ve at least completed year 12, and are quite likely to have a bachelor degree or more. They live with 1.3 other people with whom they form a family. They live in a flat or apartment which they rent. Most are working full-time at jobs they drive to.

35.2% of households speak a language other than English at home – no one language is dominant, in fact none makes up more that 3.3%, but these are the most common, in order: Greek, Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese, and Cantonese.

I thought this was interesting – the median rent is $450 per week. The households where it takes less than 30% of their income to pay rent was 78.4% (compared with 87.1% for NSW and 88.5% for Australia) the households spending more than 30% of their income on rent was 21.6% (12.9%-NSW, 11.5% AUS).

MAROUBRA’S POLITICS

Maroubra is in the Local Government area of the City of Randwick, the State electorate of Maroubra (Michael Daley, Labor) and the Federal Division of Kingsford Smith (Matt Thistlethwaite, Labor).

In the recent national postal-poll on same-sex marriage 80% of Kingsford Smith voters returned their ballots with 64% voting in favour (compared with 62% nationally).

MAROUBRA’S LOCATION

Maroubra Beach is 11.2 km from home (7 miles)

 

Beach No 49: Manly – 10 December 2017

Summer has arrived and the beaches beckon.

It’s a gorgeous, golden, shimmering day. There’s heat in the sun and cool in the shade. It feels, as it should, like early summer.

I meet Aaron, Giancarlo, and Matthew for a late breakfast at Kansas City Shuffle in The Rocks. We eat, drink coffee, talk of politics, and life, and whatever else comes to mind – an enjoyable, engaged, all-in conversation. This was just the sort of thing I missed while I was travelling alone through France – this sort of free-flowing dialogue among people with enough in common to understand one another yet who have had different enough lives as to make for fascinating observations. We order more coffee, and a sweet to share, and then its time to move on.

Matthew, Aaron, Giancarlo and me (my camera seems biased towards me) at Kansas City Shuffle.
Matthew, Aaron, Giancarlo and me (my camera seems biased towards me) at Kansas City Shuffle.

Aaron, Matthew, and I walk to Circular Quay and find a dispiritingly long queue for the standard Manly Ferry. We are about to walk back to Wynyard to get the bus when we decide to see how bad the situation is for the Fast Ferry – it’s okay so we splurge out ($8.70 one way) and join the United Nations of holiday-makers, a large number of them in Santa hats, zipping across the harbour.

Silly season in Sydney
Silly season in Sydney

Manly itself is, not surprisingly, chockablock. The Corso heaves with people. We stop into the Hotel Steyne for a pre-beach beer (and an opportunity to use the pub’s toilets to change into our swimmers rather than the overused beach ablution block). I like the light in the front bar and the courtyard – it somehow carries a reflection of the sea, which probably isn’t quite literal but the salt in the air does something to the light, the glistening blue beyond is present.

Camera favouring Aaron this time.
Camera favouring Aaron this time.

The courtyard is full of people in Christmas costumes and Santa hats. There is clearly some organised event going on but it’s not obvious what it is. Maybe just a viral thing – “wear your Santa gear to Manly” – the message may have been.

Happy Christmas - Manly style.
Happy Christmas – Manly style.

We make our way to the beach and walk amongst the crowds. The sea is rough, dumpy – the flags are narrowly placed at the southern end of the beach. There we find a spot on the border of sunshine and the shade thrown by the Norfolk Island pines lining the seawall.

The Pacific is all of the blues – from the palest aquamarine through to a green-tinged cobalt on the horizon.

Mohammed is missing. An announcement is made.

Mohammad is a six-year-old boy who’s gone missing in the area behind the flags. He’s wearing red shorts.

I imagine how terrifying this moment must be for Mohammed’s parents.

He must have been found. There is no second announcement. No police or frantic searching by Surf Lifesavers.

I wade into the surf, among the crowd. I dodge the incoming kids on boogie boards. Share smiles with a three-year-old bobbing in a rubber ring – laughing in the waves. His parents are near, but not hovering. There is a joyful freedom in his giggles. There are two-women, in saris, who’ve waded in knee-deep. As usual I ease ever so slowly in, letting my body get used to the water temperature – which is fine, but cool. And then, when I’m finally mid-torso deep – I dunk under.

It’s always a great feeling – cooling, freeing, briefly emptying my mind of thinking and planning. And yet I always take forever to wade into that moment. Perhaps that symbolises something. Or perhaps I am just, as ever, over-thinking it.

Aaron and Matthew have stayed on the beach – laying quietly. I join them – cooling, drying, listening the Babel of voices, the sound of the waves folding onto the shore, the softness of the breeze in the boughs of the pines.

Number 49 - Manly
Number 49 – Manly

“Hungry?”

I thought first of fish and chips but a wish for something healthier wins out and we have sushi instead.

I leave the boys then and collect lamingtons at the bakery on my way to Jim’s. Christabel is there too and we have an afternoon of catching up and chatting – sharing lamingtons and tea before moving to cocktails – and, when Tim and Alex arrive, and dinner served up, a bit of wine as well.

I dash for a ferry but just before boarding I have a reply from Tyler that they are home and decorating the tree – so one more stop on my Sunday in Manly. Lisa Marie is due with their first child in the coming weeks so this is likely the last chance to see them for a while.

Then I’m dashing again – now in a bit of drizzle – to a late ferry full of the sunburned and salty, the tipsy and costumed, and families laden with exhausted toddlers. There’s a lot of sleeping done between leaving and arriving.

Me? I’m feeling … alive and happy. It’s been a perfect sort of day – full of easy, comfortable socialising, and the beach, and a swim – the first of the season, always a bit like a fresh baptism as a Sydneysider.

A BIT ABOUT MANLY

I was going to open this section on the history of Manly with the story of Bennelong because the Dictionary of Sydney led me to believe he and Colebee had been kidnapped from Manly Cove. However, the Wikipedia page about Bennelong says he was a member of the Wangal Clan of the Eora people connected with the south side of the Parramatta River. Such, I suppose is the nature of the relationship between the invaders and the invaded that basic information about Bennelong is confused.

The Dictionary of Sydney says that he, and his fellow, Colebee, were kidnapped from Manly Cove on the orders of Governor Arthur Phillip in 1789 “so that Europeans could learn more about their culture and language”. These men were from the Kay-ye-my clan of the Guringai people. The name “Manly” is derived from Phillip’s description of the people he encountered here in 1788, “their confidence,” he said, “and manly behaviour made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place.”

Taking of Colbee (Colebee) and Benalon (Bennelong), Manly Cove 25 November 1789
Taking of Colbee (Colebee) and Benalon (Bennelong), Manly Cove 25 November 1789

In any case, Bennelong was the most famous Aboriginal man in early Sydney history. After escaping from captivity, he re-established contact with Governor Phillip as a free-man, learned English and served as an interlocutor between the British colonists and the Indigenous people of Sydney Harbour. In this service he also travelled to England in 1792 – taking in the theatre, meeting with various gentry, and getting sick. The location of his Sydney hut is now occupied by the Opera House – on what is known as Bennelong Point.

Even while advising the colonists, Bennelong retained a prominent position in the Eora community – including participation in the last recorded initiation ceremony in Port Jackson in 1797. By the turn of the century he led a large clan living near Kissing Point on the north side of the Parramatta River in what is now Putney. It was here that he died on 3 January 1813. There is a plaque at the end of Watson Street, Putney, about 60m from where his grave is thought to be located.

Emerging from that rabbit hole … by mid-19th century Manly was being envisioned as the Southern Hemisphere’s answer to Brighton Beach, a seaside resort for harried city-dwellers. A wharf was built and paddle-steamers, eventually run by the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company, delivered the people. It was this company which coined the advertising slogan touting Manly as “seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care.”

Manly Beach c 1868 by George Penkivil Slade
Manly Beach c 1868 by George Penkivil Slade

It was between the World Wars, and especially after the latter one, that Manly boomed as a commuter suburb. Today it retains elements of the seaside resort while also being a well-off sought-after suburb, and being home to world class surfing and surfers. It is the sister city of Bath, England. I visited Bath during my midlife gap year. It’s twinning with Manly seems both entirely logical and a bit wrong.

Surfers, Manly Beach 1957 (photo by Raymond Morris)
Surfers, Manly Beach 1957 (photo by Raymond Morris)

In 2012 a four kilometre stretch from Freshwater Beach (No 31) and Shelly Beach (yet to come) was named the Manly-Freshwater World Surfing Reserve. I mention this mostly so I can include this from the dedication ceremony – as I thought a photo the then Governor of NSW, and always fabulous, Her Excellency Professor The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir with world surfing champion Kelly Slater would be fun – the lurking presence of Tony Abbott and Mike Baird only adds to the composition, I think.

Duke's surfboard, Kelly Slater, Marie Bashir, Tony Abbott and Mike Baird
Brad Farmer, Jean Hay, Duke Kahanamoku’s surfboard, Kelly Slater, Marie Bashir, Tony Abbott and Mike Baird (Photo: Henry Wong, Manly Council)

MANLY BY THE NUMBERS

According to the 2016 census Manly is home to 15,866 people with a median household income of $2449 per week (almost double the NSW average of $1486 and the Australian average of $1438).

Sixty-nine (69) Manly residents identify as of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage – that’s 0.4% of the total. Like their neighbours, these folks are better off than their fellows living elsewhere – with a median household income of $2291 per week – NSW average for people of Indigenous heritage is $1214 and Australian is $1203.

The average Manly person is of European heritage (most likely descended from people from the UK), they’re in their mid-30s, and live in a flat (just as likely rented as owned). Half of them have a Bachelor’s Degree or more, half had at least one parent born overseas, most likely they have no religion but if they do they’re probably Catholic. If they speak something other than English at home – and not many do – it’s French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, or Italian.

MANLY’S POLITICS

Manly is in the local government area of Northern Beaches Council, in the State Electorate of Manly (James Griffin, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Warringah (Tony Abbott, Liberal).

In the recent national postal-poll on same-sex marriage 84% of Warringah voters returned their ballots with 75% voting in favour (compared with 62% nationally).

MANLY’S LOCATION

Manly is 17.3 kilometres from home.

No 48: Malabar – A winter solstice beach (25 June 2017)

In 2014 I heard a story on the radio about ceremonies people create for themselves. A caller described a women’s winter solstice ceremony she had been conducting for years. The Winter Solstice, marking the moment when more light begins to fill your days, is the beginning of a new cycle and a nadir. The caller’s ceremony involved letting go of the past year – which I then sorely needed to do.

I had then run my worst turn around the sun to date and was, finally, starting to recover. I’ve missed marking the solstice in 2015 (I was in the northern hemisphere) and 2016 (I was focussed on other things), but this year I’ve returned to the idea and set off on a glorious winter’s day to beach number 48, Malabar.

I like how the demographics on the bus shift as I travel from home to beach. From the city to the University of New South Wales we are a mixed crowd leaning East Asian, from UNSW to Kensington mostly East Asian, from Kensington to Maroubra moving towards working-class whites and Southern Europeans. Beyond Maroubra – mostly working-class whites with maybe a few Aboriginals as well.

Malabar has a strange not-in-Sydney vibe – it feels like it could be a down the South Coast someplace … a village between the ‘Gong and Kiama. A row of old-school 1950s – 1970s family homes face the rich blue inlet and the undeveloped green headland to the north.

This is an ocean beach but set at the back of Long Bay and the big waves just don’t reach the shore. When the water is clean enough to swim in (which it isn’t always) it’s a great spot for a lazy paddle.

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I’ve come with my pocket datebooks of the last year. On most days, I’ve recorded three short bullet-points – an event, my mood, the weather, a movie I saw or book I finished reading, that sort of thing.

The sea is a saturated indigo, the sky pale cerulean. The park behind the beach is filled with families, the barbeques in high demand. I sit on a bench facing the beach and, accompanied by the metronomic squeak of a child being pushed in a swing, review my year. One day’s snapshot after another. It takes nearly an hour.

Looking up from my task I notice two frolicking naked 3-year old children – a boy and a girl – and think “I love Australia”. Shame about our bodies is a learned thing. And until they learn it and stop wanting to run around naked, let kids be free – it’s lovely that these kids haven’t had embarrassment and fear imposed on them. People see people in public and think what they will think – it does no harm (predators who act do harm). That the parents of these kids are, themselves, unashamed of their naked children and not fearful that someone might be masturbating in the bushes or about to swoop in to snatch their kids, makes me happy.

P6252263 (2)

I retire to the Malabar Beach Café for the writing of the Lists – one of all the worst things that happened this past year: the disappointment of a thing not working out with a man, the long search for work, the unexplained silence of a friend, the outcome of the US election, boredom & uncertainty. And then a list of all the best things: that I maintained old and developed new friendships, became a baseball fan again and attended games, that I met my birth mother and her family, the excitement and pleasure when I thought the thing with the man might work out, getting involved in the Women’s March in Sydney, and finally landing a job.

All those things – the good and the bad – are done. They are equally behind me – I can let them all slip into the past today and begin afresh.

I walk to the northern end of the beach and prepare to burn the paper – first the bad, then the good. All the best rituals involve fire. But the paper won’t light – it just smoulders and chars. Rather than take this as a bad sign I move to an alternative. I tear them into little pieces and fling them into the sea. (Actually, I discreetly sprinkle them in an area from which I hope they will quickly be washed away from the beach.) Frankly, it’s not as satisfying as fire – I’ll have to prepare better next year.

Ceremony finished, I go for a walk on the Malabar Headland.  I am passed by two teenagers on bicycles. When they get to the sign for the National Park which says “No bicycles” the boy urges the girl to ignore it, “who’s going to be checking? Come on” he pleads. She refuses – nope, not going to do it, it’s not about being caught it’s about the rule. I like the strength of the girl’s refusal to do what the boy wants – I think that bodes well for her.

Not much further along a couple in their 50s or 60s, difficult to say as they have clearly lived hard, pass in the opposite direction talking of the wisdom and regrets of age.

I think about the lifetime of experiences between the rule breaking teenage boy and the craggle-faced man with regrets. I think about how distant the man’s age must seem to the boy and how near the boy’s age may seem to the man. Time is a funny thing.

Malabar and its beach from the National Park
Malabar and its beach from the National Park
Ancient rocks, endless sea
Ancient rocks, endless sea

The last time I did this Solstice ceremony I had feelings of lightness and release, unexpected but real. Today I’m trying to feel those things – and am sort of succeeding: being in the moment, breathing in big lungfuls of clean air, watching the sea. But, it’s not quite as good as the first time. Then I was farewelling a momentously bad year, while this one just past has been … well, just a year really. Better than some, worse than others. Even if the ceremony is about putting things behind and moving fresh into the new year – the reality is life is a continuum and the effects of the last year will continue.

Time, in the end, is like the the sea, it keeps rolling in – today, right now, both are steady and calm.

And that’s okay too – it’s been a gorgeous day and I’ve enjoyed reviewing and letting go.

The wreck of the MV Malabar
The wreck of the MV Malabar

Malabar is not named for the region of India but after a ship, the MV Malabar which shipwrecked on Miranda Point on 2 April 1931. Europeans, since arriving in the area in the 1860s – had called the suburb either Brand or Long Bay, the latter still naming the nearby prison.

Wiki says that the area had been a camping location for the original Indigenous residents. There are said to be carvings on the headland and that a rock overhang on the south side of Long Bay was used as a shelter for Aboriginal people suffering from smallpox in the late 1700s. An English historian wrote in 1882 that Aboriginal people referred to Long Bay as ‘Boora’. Scraps, all we have are tiny scraps from a once thriving culture and the few strong descendants of the survivors of a horrible, horrible injustice trying to hold on to what remains and piece together some of what was lost.

In the 2016 census Malabar was home to 5,420 people of whom 64.8% were male – I’m guessing the prison population is skewing that statistic as the state is only 49.3% male. 359 (6.6%) Malabar residents are of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders heritage. 67% were born in Australia with England as the top overseas location with 3.5%. One-third had one or both parents born overseas (England, the top location). 1,925 (35.5%) show their religious affiliation as Not Stated (again, I think that’s the prisoners as state wide it was 9.2% – 1,920 did not state their education level as well – state wide 23%). Catholic came next with 26.5%. The top language, other than English, was Greek for 90 people or 1.7%

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Malabar is 12.3 km (7.6 miles) from home.

Malabar is in the local government area of the City of Randwick, the State Electorate of Maroubra (Labor – Michael Daley), and the Federal division of Kingsford-Smith (Labor, Matt Thistlethwaite) (prior to Matt this was the seat held by Peter Garrett, presently touring the world with Midnight Oil).

Long Time a Coming – Long Reef (No. 47*: 16 April 2017)

You’d almost think I’d grown weary of this project given how slowly I’ve returned to it after my time away, but that’s not it at all. I continue to love the idea but sometimes it just becomes hard to get there.

No 47: Long Reef ... slowly, slowly
No 47: Long Reef … slowly, slowly

While unemployed, my weekends weren’t a break from my labours – I could just as easily search for jobs at the weekend as any other time. Even if I wasn’t looking for work at the weekends I felt the pressure that, perhaps, I could be, I should be.  While unemployed, I was also more conscientious of spending money and felt that if I stayed close to home I’d spend less than if I went to the beach. That may not be true, but that’s how I felt.

So, I’ve been meaning to get to Long Reef for weeks but now that I am again professionally employed in a 9-5, Monday to Friday kind of way – it’s finally time.

It’s Easter Sunday and a cracker of a day: blue sky, light breeze, hot for April but not scorching. Australians being Australians are flocking to their chosen places of worship: the beach, the footy grounds, and other places of recreation and beer. I’m heading for the Manly Ferry – such a perfect day for it.

I walk through the picnickers and off-leash dogs in Hollis Park on my way to Macdonaldtown Station where I join a trainload of Sydney’s diversity for the ride into the city. At Circular Quay, I make my way through the throngs to Wharf 3 – where I find there are enough passengers queued to fill a ferry and a half. I guess I’ll take the bus.

From Wynyard Station I get a limited-stops bus which drops me at Collaroy Beach in about 40 minutes, from there I catch a local bus back two stops and pop into Outpost Espresso for a pick-me up.

It’s nearly 2 pm, and closing time, the only other customers are a salty, sandy, end-of-summer bronzed family of five getting milk shakes and iced lattes.

I find myself in a state of joyful liberation because I am employed and it is Sunday and there’s nothing I must do. I have employment and pay coming around the corner – so, no worries.

With this feeling of lightness, I set off for the walk past the golf club and Fisherman’s Beach (No 27 – visited in April 2013). Around Long Reef Point the footpath is crowded with families and couples. A paraglider is circling on the breeze, casting the occasional shocking shadow – like a giant raptor looking for prey. The sea is an autumn steel blue and crashing into the rocks below. I turn the corner and eye Long Reef Beach from its tucked-in northern end sweeping south and melding into Dee Why Beach (No 21 – visited February 2012).

Looking south from Long Reef point to Long Reef Beach and Dee Why beyond
Looking south from Long Reef point to Long Reef Beach and Dee Why beyond

 

Walking on Long Reef Beach
Walking on Long Reef Beach

I walk up the beach to the flagged area, plant myself near the Surf Lifesavers marquee and survey my fellow beach-goers. They are mostly white, mostly local – I’m guessing. There are a lot of families, a few clusters of teenagers, a smattering of couples. A toddler with caramel skin, curly locks and nothing but her Manly Sea Eagles bottoms on – dashes, laughing, away from her Surf Lifesaver father, who is trying to wrap her in a towel.

The sea is a bit dumpy and the flags are planted narrowly together so it is through a crowd I wade into the surf. The water is cool but I grow used to it, dunking my whole self beneath a folding wave and I’m happy to bob in the power of the ocean for a wee bit while dodging little kids on boogie boards and full-grown men body surfing into shore.

I realise I have not been in the open ocean – not a bay or harbour – since before I left for my Midlife Gap Year. Anywhere. I visited some on my ride home to Sydney from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland but for one reason or another didn’t swim at any of them. Admittedly I’m a bit intimidated by the surf – as a native of the American Midwest I came to ocean swimming late in life and being dependent on glasses to have clear vision – the power and mystery of rips and waves unsettle me. The last ocean beach I visited as part of this project was No. 31 Freshwater back in January 2014 – wow.

Autumn, Sydney-style.
Autumn, Sydney-style.

Wet and sea-salty I take up a position on the beach in the sun and enjoy the warmth of the autumn sun – generally more pleasant than Sydney’s often bitingly hot summer sun. It’s already late afternoon and I don’t stay long – but it’s been a lovely day for it and I’m glad I got to Long Reef before the beach season ends.

Long Reef was part of the homeland of the Dharug people, probably, before European invasion of Australia. The commonly used name, by Europeans, for the people who had been living in this area is Guringai, however, it now seems this is not what the people who lived here called themselves. Some rock engravings done by these people remain in the area.

European settlement began in 1815 when William Cossar (a master shipbuilder) was granted some 500+ acres (200+ hectares) including Long Reef. By 1825 it was in the hands of James Jenkins, a former convict who had been transported in 1802 for stealing sheep. His eldest child, Elizabeth, had inherited land in North Narrabeen in 1821 and with the 1825 acquisition, the Jenkins family owned all of the foreshore form Mona Vale to Dee Why. At the extent of their holdings they had 1800 acres (728 hectares).

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 Long Reef is 24 kilometres (15 miles) from home.

For census purposes it’s in Collaroy, which was, in 2011 home to 14,388 people of whom 50, or 0.4%, identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Conversely, 110 residents listed the United States as their country of birth. So there are more than twice as many Americans in Collaroy as there are Indigenous Australians.

It’s in the Northern Beaches Council local government area, the state electorate of Wakehurst (Liberal – Brad Hazzard), and federal division of Mackellar (Liberal – Jason Falinski).

*The next beach in the alphabetical list is actually Little Patonga – another Pittwater beach needing a boat. Four of those have now been set aside to be visited in one weekend out on the water, eventually: Gunyah (Brooklyn) No 35, Hallets No 37, Hungry No 39, and Little Patonga No 46.

Getting Naked on Little Congwong Beach (No 45, 2 January 2017)

No 45: Little Congwong (Monday 2 January)

Little Congwong is not officially clothing optional and yet it is.

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So it was appropriate that I should visit while my friend Matthew is in town.

Matthew recently rode his bicycle from Eindhoven, the Netherlands to his hometown of Adelaide. I had been following his blog as I was preparing for my own big bicycle tour and, one day in December 2014, I was catching up on his story when I watched this video, and thought it was excellent.

I complimented the video, and, knowing he was summering in Australia (wisely not riding in the northern winter), I suggested that if he made to Sydney we might meet.

He messaged back that he was in Sydney and asked if I were free that afternoon.

I found him to be as interesting in person as he’d been on line.

Over the course of my mid-life gap-year, return to Australia, and time spent campaigning for Hillary Clinton we’ve maintained our on-line friendship – liking and commenting on each other’s stuff. While I was on my journey he was riding through Iran, Central Asia, China, South East Asia, and Australia.

He got home to Adelaide in August. Then, just before Christmas, rode to Sydney.

We’d caught up a few times before our beach outing and each time out I liked him more. He’s smart and funny, with a million stories of course, and, unlike any of my other friends, in pretty much the exact same place in life: mid-40s, having dramatically left behind an earlier version of ourselves to go on a big adventure, now on the other side of that we’re trying to figure out what comes next, how to be our genuine selves and be gainfully employed. Oh, and we’re also both on the market for boyfriends.

One thing Matthew enjoyed doing on his journey across the world was to sometimes ride naked. So, a perfect companion for a trip to an unofficially clothing-optional beach.

Matthew met me in Newtown and we set off on our convoluted bus journey to La Perouse under threatening skies. From King Street we walked down Erskineville Road, and into Swanson. We had coffees at Ella Guru Café while it rained.  We then pushed on to McEvoy Street to catch the 370 to the University of NSW and the 391 to La Perouse.

I hadn’t been down that way in, well, years. There’s something about that peninsula, once you get past Maroubra which feels apart from Sydney. It feels more like something down the south coast, some misplaced bit of Sussex Inlet or Nowra.

That is, until you get to La Perouse which is always more Asian and Middle Eastern than those places. And, of course, there are more Aboriginal people. La Perouse is one of the few places in all of Sydney where Aboriginal people have an unbroken record of continual residence.

I also like that Matthew is at least as frugal, if not more frugal, than I am so we perused the lunch menus of the restaurants of La Perouse with one eye and, not surprisingly, settled on the old-school fish and chippery.

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Once fed we made our way, down the stairs through the bush to Congwong Beach (No 16 – visited a lifetime ago on 3 April 2011), to the far end, and along a further bush path to Little Congwong.

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Just as we emerged we ran into a Polish family who warned us there are naked people on the beach – we know, we said. And Matthew chatted with the guy for a bit – here’s a place where we’re different, he’s happy for a chat with anyone.

Sure enough at the near end of the bush-backed, slightly curving 150m or so long beach there were a few topless and naked women sun bathing. There were some men and women in bathers. We kept walking toward the far end of the beach where there were some naked men and other men in skimpy bathers. “We’re definitely in your neighbourhood now,” I said. He offered to head back the other way and I was like, oh, no, I have no problem with naked gay men.

We spread our towels and Matthew got his kit off, but sat in such a way that his junk wasn’t all obvious to me as we chatted. I was happy clothed.

At the far end of the beach a lean, bronzed, naked, middle-aged man was exercising. He had dumbbells and did standing arm curls, and shoulder presses. He did squats and lay on his back doing bicycle kicks. And a variety of other exercises you’d expect on a 1950s parade ground of soldiers dressed in white t-shirts tucked into small shorts. But he was naked. And on the beach. We watched and chuckled. And Matthew mimicked him with is bottle of Dare.

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See naked man with dumbbells in the background.

Mathew went for a swim and fell into conversation with a young European man who was part of a quartet of guys parked near us. Matthew’s new friend, a Belgian, was married to another of the quartet but he, his husband, was up in the bush checking out the cruising scene. My time with Matthew has been an eye-opening, fascinating, education in the ways of life in a certain segment of the gay-male world. Having been dateless and single for quite a while now, I admit a certain envy of the easy, fearless (or at least less worried – about violence, about pregnancy), open, sex-driven culture he’s part of. And, really, it’s just fascinating and deeply foreign – a culture I can no more access than Saudi politics, Japanese yakuza, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

It rained a bit. The sun came out and then disappeared again. When it was out it was like an overly powerful heat lamp much too close at hand.

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Walkers on the bridge to Bare Island.

I wasn’t going to swim. The water was fresh, but not too cool, just sort of dumpy and churning. In the end, I realised I’d regret not having gone in. I have come to like nude beaches; I like swimming naked. And I am at best invisible to the gay men on the beach and at worst irrelevant. So, with Matthew already in the water and chatting with another of the quartet of men. I stripped down, hugged my boobs and marched into the water. And then tip-toed to where they stood. It is a bit strange – the conversing with people while naked.

We emerged, dried, and laughed once more at the exercising man – now wearing a hat and chatting with a naked fisherman. Then we were done, we dressed, and made our way back to the bus stop and on to the City.

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We didn’t ride but this is, pretty much, the route we took to get there.

Little Congwong is about 17 kilometres from my home. La Perouse is home to 418 people according to the 2011 census. Of these, 27.9% identified as Australian and 19.2% as Australian Aboriginal. (Compared with 0.3% of all New South Wales, and 0.5% of all of Australia.) The balance were 17.5% English, 6.1% Irish, and 4.3% Greek.

Little Congwong is the City of Randwick, the State electorate of Maroubra (Labor – Michael Daley), and Federal Division of Kingsford Smith (Labor – Matt Thistlethwaite).

 

All of My Sisters in Burqinis are Enjoying Christmas Day at Lady Robinson’s Beach (No 44 – 25 December 2016)

In recent years, I’ve made the tradition of a Jew’s Christmas my own. In the United States that’s a movie and Chinese food. But this is Australia so: a swim, a movie, and Chinese food.

Lady Robinson’s Beach is on Botany Bay between the mouths of the Cooks River and the Georges River.

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European settlers (invaders) named this Seven Mile Beach but it was renamed during the tenure of the 14th Governor of New South Wales, Sir Hercules Robinson. He served from March 1872 to February 1879 and the beach was named for his wife, Lady Robinson, or Nea Arthur Ada Rose D’Amour. The fifth daughter of the ninth Viscount Valentia.

Sir Hercules’ career, Lady Robinson’s as well, reads like a stereotype of British colonial service: Administrator of Montserrat, Lt Governor of Saint Christopher (Saint Kitts), Governor of Hong Kong, of British Ceylon, of Fiji, of New Zealand, Acting Governor of British Mauritius, High Commissioner for Southern Africa, and Governor of the Cape Colony. Yet, he managed to get home to London to die in October 1897, aged 62.

Their daughter, Nora Robinson, wed Alexander Kirkman Finlay at St James’ Church in Sydney in 1878. The groom owned Glenormiston, a large station in Victoria. This wedding was the second vice-regal wedding in New South Wales and, as such, attracted much public attention – a crowd estimated up to 10,000 gathered outside the church.

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Wedding party for marriage of Nora Augusta Maud, daughter of Sir Hercules and Lady Nea Robinson, to A.K. Finlay, Sydney, August, 1878 (Lady Robinson is seated, facing the bride)

I do suggest reading Sir Hercules’ Wikipedia page. It’s both fascinating and a strange and unlikely tale to be tied to this stretch of beach – which, on Christmas Day 2016 is hosting families from all around the world – a few of whom, were surely, from other places touched by Sir Hercules’ colonial hand.

The day, while breezy, is otherwise a perfect Sydney Christmas Day: sunny, warm but not too hot, not too humid. Just lovely.

Every bit of shade in the reserve has been colonised by a United Nations of families: East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, European, and African. Many are clearly Muslims, some probably Buddhist – the Christians come for a dip and go back to their parties and lunches at home.

Christmas is the day when I feel most Jewish, not that I practice, but on this day I usually feel very much an Outsider. But not here, not at Lady Robinson’s Beach, where today is, mostly, a day for non-Christians making the most of a holiday courtesy of the Christian majority.

There is a busy shark-netted swimming enclosure. Jet skis buzz along the shore. International flights circle, approach from the southwest, and land on Sydney Airport’s third runway while other planes queue for their turn to depart. In the distance, the cranes of Sydney’s port fill the horizon.

I love this beach. I love how it’s a bit gritty in a working class, working port, immigrant families way – the antithesis of the glitzy beautiful-people blonde-haired blue-eyed stereotype of Sydney’s beaches.

There are more women and girls on this beach in burqinis than bikinis.

And I love that too. I love that an Australian woman, Aheda Zanetti, started a company, Ahiida, to provide swimming attire that allows Muslim women, who choose to abide by dictates of modest dress, to fully participate in this most Australian of activities – swimming in the sea and enjoying the beach.

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I wade into the Bay – the water is cooling, refreshing but not cold. I move slowly to where I’m waist deep then dive in. Emerging I feel a wave of welled and condensed emotions – a rejoicing for my return home, finally, to Sydney, and the easy contentment that has brought me, also some nostalgia for the 19 months of travel and volunteering gone by and the knowledge I’m unlikely to have that kind of open-ended freedom again, and, too, some sadness, for hopes unfulfilled. All of that in the woosh of rising out of the water, raising my arms to splash the sea around me, and then feeling the heat of the sun on my wet skin.

I sit for a time on the beach and write – as I do, an excited family group arrives, first a dad and kids running past me into the water than the younger women, in colourful burqinis, then older women in flowing black hijabs and matching garb. They were all, seemingly, having a really lovely time – while making for a striking scene – these black clad women, wading in the shallows, the planes and port cranes in the background.

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I rode my bicycle home, enjoyed sweet and sour chicken at the Happy Chef then met some new Jewish friends for a screening of La La Land at Bondi Junction.

And so, another Australian Jewish Christmas in the books and a good beach from which to restart this blog.

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Lady Robinson’s Beach was an 13.5 kilometre (8.3 mile) bicycle ride from home.

The portion of the beach which I visited is in Kyeemagh, a suburb in the Bayside Council.

Kyeemagh is a wee little suburb – home to 780 people of whom 37.5 % were born overseas (Greece 10.5%, Lebanon 2.3%, and Cyprus 2.2%). English is the primary language spoken in 44.3% of homes. (All per the 2006 census.)

It’s in the Rockdale State Electorate (Steve Kamper, Labor) and the Federal Division of Barton (Linda Burney, Labor). (It has been a LONG time since I’ve been to a beach represented at both levels by the Labor Party.)